Saturday, February 28, 2009

Researcher: humans "mastered fire" 790,000 years ago

A researcher who excavated 12 layers of soil deposits from the shore of an ancient lake near the river Jordan found evidence that fire had been used by humans in every layer. The soil layers were laid down by waters from the lake in between occupancies by the different societies of humans that inhabited the site 790,000 years ago. Nira Alperson-Afil from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, concluded that humans would have had to have mastered the art of creating fire for it to have shown up in all 12 layers.

Previous research had shown that humans from this period could manipulate and use fire, but it was not clear whether they had the ability to create the fire themselves.

The researcher did not say if 790,000 years ago the users of fire had to obtain burning permits, get NEPA compliance, or write burn plans before they started their fires.

Australian fires update, Feb. 28

Feb. 10, 2009. Tasmania, a very large island off the southeast coast of Australia, sent 90 firefighters and 29 fire trucks across the sea to help their mainland brothers and sisters. Photo: Brad Marsellos

Feb. 27, 2009. Tasmanian firefighters wait at a staging area in Warburton, west of Melbourne, for another assignment. AP

The severe fire weather that Australian firefighters had been expecting on Friday did not materialize, giving them an opportunity to make more progress on the four large fires that are still not under control. But the Tuesday forecast calls for very warm temperatures with gale-force north to north-westerly winds.

At least 37 people are still missing and 210 are known dead as a result of the Feb. 7 Black Saturday fires. From Reuters:
Brigadier Michael Arnold, head of a joint task force assisting state authorities in the search for bodies, said he anticipated new remains would be found after Australia's worst natural disaster in 110 years.

Victorian coroner Jennifer Coate has ordered more than 1,000 sites to be re-examined after human remains were found in areas already thought to have been cleared.

"The coroner wanted to be convinced that a reasonable search had been conducted," Australian Associated Press quoted Arnold as saying. He said the search would involve about 1,300 sites.

"It's not an easy task. We know that there are 37 missing persons still, the odds are we will come across human remains during this search," he said.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Andrew Palmer fatality

Andrew Palmer

After Andrew Palmer was killed in a tree felling accident while he was working on a fire in northern California on July 25, 2008, law enforcement officers and the U.S. Attorney's office got heavily involved in the case, which slowed down the serious accident investigation.

But on January 23, 2009 the U. S. Attorney's office in Sacramento made a decision, saying "We decline to pursue criminal charges". This is good news for several reasons, but especially since now the accident investigation can resume and if there are lessons to be learned, those will be discovered.

Wildfire news, February 27

Siren maker loses civil suit about hearing loss

Federal Signal, a company that makes sirens and light bars for emergency vehicles, lost a civil suit filed by nine firefighters in Cook County, Ill. who claimed they suffered hearing loss from exposure to loud fire-truck sirens. The company, which has successfully warded off many previous hearing-loss lawsuits, says they will appeal the decision and they will "fight aggressively to overturn this verdict."

Australian fires

The town of Marysville. February 12, 2009. Photo: AAP

The southerly wind change that was expected to increase the threat of fires near Melbourne is occurring more slowly than expected but should reach the area in a matter of hours. Firefighters have been able to keep the four large fires that are still uncontrolled from spreading further.

Esperanza fire trial

In closing arguments on Thursday, the attorney defending Raymond Oyler, on trial for setting the 2006 Esperanza fire in southern California in which five USFS firefighters died, said his client DID set as many as 11 arson fires in 2006 but not the Esperanza fire. The attorney said that even though all of the fires were set with combinations of wooden matches and cigarettes, the way they were configured for the Esperanza fire was different from the other fires.

Oyler's girlfriend told police he had bragged to her about setting fires and was disappointed that they were not larger. When she threatened to leave him if he kept setting the fires, he quit for six months, Michael Hestrin, the prosecutor said.

Hestrin told the jury, "Raymond Oyler set this fire and killed these five brave men. Hold him accountable for murder. That's what he did. He killed these men."

The jury began deliberations this morning at 9:15 after the judge gave them their instructions.

If you have information about the trial, send us an email (click on my photo at the very bottom of the page) or call us on the phone by clicking the "Call Me" button on the right side of this page.

Esperanza fire photo gallery

The LA Times has a collection of 16 photos of the Esperanza fire. Here is one.

UPDATE: 6:55 P.M. PT, Feb. 27

The jury ended their first day of deliberations on Friday without reaching a verdict. The four-man, eight-woman panel will resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Monday.

Incident Review Checklist and After Action Review

The After Action Review (AAR) process, after having been successfully institutionalized by the military, was adopted by many wildland fire agencies 8-10 years ago. It is a learning tool that can evaluate a process or an incident with the goal of improving performance by sustaining strengths and correcting weaknesses.

The process is simple. Participants that were involved in the incident are encouraged to provide input on:
  1. what was planned,
  2. what actually happened,
  3. why it happened, and
  4. what can be done next time.
The Lessons Learned Center posts copies of the AARs they have received, making it possible for us to learn from the experiences of others. This is an incredibly valuable service the LLC provides.

But there are other ways to conduct an after action review. Thanks to Butch Weedon's "The Latest", we have another process called an "Incident Review Checklist". It is very detailed and attempts to ensure that few issues are forgotten. It emphases WHAT happened, but the list does not cover WHY or what should be done NEXT TIME. Maybe it is assumed that the WHY and the NEXT TIME will be discussed if problems are identified.

All of the items on the list below do not apply to every department or agency, but at a minimium, it is food for thought.

Here is the:

Incident Review Checklist

Did we acknowledge the page only once?
Did we use the dispatch channel for only essential communications?
Did we drive appropriately and wear a seat belt when in route to the station?
Did everyone take/ wear appropriate PPE to the scene, given the nature of the incident?
Did we respond with the proper apparatus?
Did we take the most direct route to the scene?
Did we have enough members respond?
Did everyone respond to where they should respond to (station / scene)?
Did anyone have to ask for directions?
Did everyone wear a seatbelt?
Did we stop at all stop indicators, and yield at yield signs (at least until other traffic yielded to us)?

Did we stage and attempt to get an assignment / or assume command?
Did we do the 5 step communications process consistently?
Did we do what the IC said do?
Did we get on a tactical channel as assigned?
Did we wear appropriate PPE?
Did we maintain crew integrity?
Did we position our apparatus to operate at best advantage?
Did we apply the high idle?
Did we have water ready immediately when called for?
Did we get anyone hurt?
Did we do any unnecessary damage?
Did we operate inside the hazard zone only with a crew w/ PPE and an assignment?
Did we execute the basics flawlessly?
Did our command have a plan for EMS / Water Supply?

Did we release apparatus when it was not needed?
Did we top off fuel and water in our apparatus?
Did we clean and refuel our tools?
Did we refill our air bottles and clean our face pieces?
Did we leave our apparatus ready to respond to the next alarm?
Did we make a log entry and file a report?

Were we nice to our customers and/or host?
Did we do more than was expected of us?
Did we turn off the lights, turn the station heat down and lock the station?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Esperanza fire trial; closed hearing

There were some strange things going on in the Esperanza fire trial today. From KESQ:
Closing arguments have concluded in the murder trial of a California man accused of setting a wildfire that killed five firefighters, but the judge has held an unusual closed hearing.

After Thursday's arguments, Riverside County Superior Court Judge W. Charles Morgan dismissed the public but kept the jury and attorneys behind closed doors.

Earlier in the day he also ordered the public out and called jurors in one by one.

It's unclear what prompted the judge's actions, but defense attorney Mark McDonald said afterward that the jury composition remains the same and the panel will return Friday for final instructions and the start of deliberations.

McDonald could not say anything more because of a gag order.

Thirty-8-year-old Raymond Oyler has pleaded not guilty to five counts of first-degree murder and other crimes. Five Forest Service firefighters were killed by the so-called Esperanza Fire in October 2006.
More details about the closing arguments are at the Desert Sun.

"13 Situations That Shout Watch Out"

The evolution of the "13 Situations that Shout Watch Out" and the "18 Watch Out Situations".

From a paper by Jennifer A. Ziegler, PhD., Department of Communication, Valparaiso University:
Although it is still a mystery about precisely when, where, or how the original 13 Situations that Shout ‘Watch Out’ were developed, there is good reason to believe that they originated in the late 1960s, and most likely after 1967. Officially, there were 13 “Situations that Shout ‘Watch Out’” in effect through the summer of 1987.

Then, five items were added to the list when NWCG developed the “Standards for Survival” course later that year (1987). At that time, the name was also changed to 18 “Watch Out Situations,” and the sentence structure of each item was altered from the subjective “You are…” to a more objective description of each situation.

1987 was also the year the Fire Orders were reordered, and the Standards for Survival course and subsequent trend analyses of the Watch Out Situations emphasized how the two lists were supposed to work together. Although the Fire Orders were reordered (again) in 2003, the list of Watch Out Situations has remained unchanged since 1987.

"Basic 32" wildland fire training

In 1972, when I was on the El Cariso Hot Shots near Elsinore, California, the crew, led by Superintendent Ron Campbell, saw the need for standardized basic training for wildland firefighters. At the time, there was nothing, just collections of papers, research, and some books. Some people had written some lesson plans, but there was no widely available, organized training curriculum that could be used to take someone off the street and put them through a structured multi-day course in wildland fire suppression.

In what is now seen as a remarkable accomplishment, the crew created a 32-hour course, complete with lesson plans, a slide-tape program, tests, and a student workbook, to fill this need. Over the next several years, dozens of copies of the program were made and distributed, mostly around the Cleveland National Forest and other areas in southern California. Later it was converted to video tape which made it a lot easier to put on the training, and the popularity spread even further.

Tom Sadowski and I took most of the photos, the slides, that were used in the program. Recently I converted over 800 of my slides, prints, and negatives to digital form, including some copies I had of some of the original slides that I took that were in what became known as the "Basic 32" training.

13 Watch Out Situations from the 1970s

The photo at the top of this post is from that "Basic 32" program, and was one of the 13 images of what was then the "13 Situations That Shout Watch Out".

I will post the other 12

Over the next 12 days From March 19 through 30 I will post the other 12 of the color images from the "13 Situations", one each day.

Here are the 18 Watch Out Situations as they are today.

1. Fire not scouted and sized up.
2. In country not seen in daylight.
3. Safety zones and escape routes not identified.
4. Unfamiliar with weather and local factors influencing fire behavior.
5. Uninformed on strategy, tactics, and hazards.
6. Instructions and assignments not clear.
7. No communication link with crewmembers/supervisors.
8. Constructing line without safe anchor point.
9. Building fireline downhill with fire below.
10. Attempting frontal assault on fire.
11. Unburned fuel between you and the fire.
12. Cannot see main fire, not in contact with anyone who can.
13. On a hillside where rolling material can ignite fuel below.
14. Weather is getting hotter and drier.
15. Wind increases and/or changes direction.
16. Getting frequent spot fires across line.
17. Terrain and fuels make escape to safety zones difficult.
18. Taking a nap near the fire line.

What's next?

Jennifer A. Ziegler, Ph.D., at the 9th Wildland Fire Safety Summit in Pasadena, Calif., 2006; Photo: Bill Gabbert

Dr. Ziegler will be presenting a follow up poster at the 10th Wildland Fire Safety Summit in Phoenix, April 27-30, regarding the origin of the original 13 Situations, called "Help Uncover the Mystery of the Original 13 Situations That Shout Watch Out". One aspect of the Situations that has captured her interest is that they were originally intended to be operational tactics and not safety guidelines.

A question she will be asking at the Safety Summit will be "What is the 19th Watch Out Situation?"

Wildfire news, February 26

"102-square feet per minute"

A grass fire near Purcell, Oklahoma shut down Interstate 35 for a while and burned 40 to 60 acres before being stopped by firefighters from several fire departments.

We are not sure if Purcell Fire Chief Mike Clifton was quoted correctly, but the Purcell Register has him saying the blaze was moving at "102-square feet per minute". That is the first time we have seen a statistic like that in a newspaper article.

Prepare, Stay and Defend, or Leave Early-- the debate continues

As the knee-jerk reactions to the unfortunate deaths in the February 7 fires in Australia continue to surface, some actual scientists with specific knowledge of the subject have written an article, suggesting that the policy could work in some areas within the United States. You should read the entire article, but here is a brief excerpt:
"The key element of Australia's policy is to train willing homeowners to protect their homes in an active wildfire," said Scott Stephens, associate professor of fire science and co-director of UC Berkeley's Center for Fire Research and Outreach. "What the Australian strategy does is actively engage and help homeowners to become part of the solution rather than just to need evacuation. However, it should be noted that some California communities are so vulnerable that a 'prepare and leave early' strategy may be the only option."

The Australian approach also includes a more strategic land-use management policy in which decisions about new housing in areas vulnerable to wildfires are overseen at the state level, ensuring a more consistent standard for fire-resistant building codes and in urban development, the researchers said.

In contrast to Australia, the researchers said, fire agencies in California focus primarily on mandatory evacuations followed by fire suppression. Not only has this approach not reduced property loss, it could increase the risk for people if the evacuations are carried out at the last minute, the researchers argued.


The researchers also emphasized that homeowners in Australia go through an annual training program run by local fire agencies, and are provided with appropriate supplies such as hoses, radios and protective clothing.

"The Australian approach is different from what many call 'shelter-in-place,' an American concept stemming from other environmental hazards and connoting more passive action by residents," said co-author Max Moritz, cooperative extension specialist in wildland fire and co-director with Stephens of the Center for Fire Research and Outreach. "There is active participation from the homeowners before and possibly during a fire. In the process, they become more aware of the risks of living in an urban-wildland interface, and both homes and people are better prepared to handle fires when they inevitably occur."

The Australian wildfire management strategy, adopted after the country's 1983 "Ash Wednesday" brushfires, is based upon the premise that it is often riskier to leave a home as a fire front approaches than to stay sheltered while actively defending it. In that 1983 fire, 75 people died and many more were injured, most while outside their homes trying to escape.

Australia closes schools, anticipating resurgent wildfires

Starting four days before the disastrous Black Saturday fires of February 7, authorities in Australia began warning residents about the forthcoming danger of extreme fire weather. They have been doing this again this week, expecting Friday February 27 to bring high temperatures (100 degrees F), strong winds, and lightning.

Nearly 200 government schools and 146 children's centers will be closed on Friday. Three schools burned on February 7.

Mannford, Oklahoma firefighter laid to rest

About 200 firefighters and 40 fire trucks participated in a two-mile long procession to the cemetery as firefighter John Adams was honored in services in Mannford, Okla. Mr. Adams died on Feb. 20 after he suffered a heart attack while fighting a vegetation fire.

Interview with Domingos Viegas

Irakli West lives near Munich, Germany and runs the web site FWnetz, an online magazine and training resource for firefighters. He told us about an interview he conducted with Domingos Viegas who is known world-wide for his work on "eruptive fire behavior" and is a former member of the International Association of Wildland Fire's Board of Directors. Domingos has given presentations at conferences in the United States on the topic of fire behavior and has his own faculty and lab in Coimbra, Portugal.

The interview below was recorded in Makarska, Croatia in December, 2008 where Domingos gave a presentation about the loss of 12 firefighters in 2007.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Union Pacific train starts 9 fires, burns home of 92-year old woman

A Union Pacific train started nine fires along a 5-mile stretch of railroad in the community of Arvada, just west of Denver, Colorado yesterday. A spokesman for the Arvada fire department said multiple witnesses saw sparks from the train start numerous fires along the tracks.

Margery Kusulas, 92, was fortunate that her neighbor Terry Kemp was told about the fire by his daughter Jackie. Kemp ran to the house and searched inside until he found Kusulas and her daughter and warned them. "I was just going to keep charging in there until I found them. I yelled really loud-- 'You just have to get out, get out' " Kemp said.

Here is a video about the fires from KMJH in Denver.

It is unknown at this time if Union Pacific will pay to replace Ms. Kasulas' home and 100-year old barn.

The Arvada fire department responds to about five fires every year that are started by trains. Wildfire Today has addressed the issue of railroad and train-caused fires before, and the fact that proper maintenance by the railroads can prevent most of them. In fact it was just last week that a brush truck with three firefighters rolled over in Abilene, Texas, injuring all three and damaging their fire truck, while suppressing a railroad-caused fire.

Wildfire news, February 25

Chad Suppa memorial services, updated information

More information is available about the memorial services for Chad Suppa. We updated our earlier post HERE, so that it now includes information about a second service that has been scheduled, memorial funds, and an on-line guest book.

Marine accused of setting fire on Camp Pendleton

File photo of an October 8, 2008 fire on Camp Pendleton

A marine from Camp Pendleton in southern California has been charged with setting a 4,000-acre fire, one of two fires on the base on October 13, 2008. Base officials said Lance Cpl. Nason G. Lamb started the fire during a training exercise. The cause of the second fire is still under investigation.

There were a number of fires on the base during October. The photo above shows one on October 8 that burned 1,000 acres.

HERE is a link to a collection of Wildfire Today blog posts about fires on the base.

Tom Strickland chosen to oversee parks and USF&WS

President Obama announced on Monday that he intends to nominate Tom Strickland to be the Department of Interior's new Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, a position that would oversee the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Strickland is presently Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar's chief of staff and would continue to fill that role as well as the Assistant Secretary job. Before taking his present position Strickland was chief legal officer for United Health Group, was a managing partner for a law firm in Colorado, was the policy director for Colorado governor Richard Lamm, and served as the U.S. Attorney for Colorado from 1999 to 2001.

Strickland also ran and lost two elections in his bid to be a Democratic Senator from Colorado.

Strickland and Salazar were both board members and founders of Great Outdoors Colorado, a group created in 1992 that used state lottery funds to help manage Colorado's public parks.

Can wildfires help sequester carbon?

It is known that wildfires can add to the problem of carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere, but there may be an upside, according to a study by Siddhjartha Mitra of East Carolina University. Over the long term wildfires may cause carbon to be sequestered in the form of carbon-rich soot and charcoal.

If global warming results in larger wildfires, this effect could be accelerated. However, the impact could be small, and would be measured in centuries.

More information is HERE.

Esperanza fire trial

On Tuesday the defense rested in the murder trial of Raymond Oyler for starting the 2006 fire that resulted in the deaths of five firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service in southern California. On Wednesday the jury has the day off while the attorneys prepare the exhibits that will be available to the jury during their deliberations. The two sides will present their final arguments on Thursday after which judge W. Charles Morgan will give his instructions to the jury.

Many people still listed as missing after Australia's fires

The death toll stands at 210 following the Feb. 7 Black Saturday fires, but in Victoria, Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe said police are still matching the 17,000 people who registered as being safe with the thousands of inquiries about missing people.

Walshe said, "As a result, we are yet to definitively determine how many people are still missing."

Thanks Dick

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Word Cloud for Wildfire Today

That's a fun little thing called a "word cloud" based on how the words were used on this web page today. Click on it to see a larger version. You can make your own at Wordle by submitting a document or a web site.

San Diego fire chiefs blast stay and defend policy

August Ghio, president of the San Diego County Fire Chiefs Association at a press conference. photo: East County Magazine

The prepare, stay and defend, or go early policy which has been used in Australia for decades and is being slowly adopted in some areas of the United States has encountered substantial resistance in San Diego County. Here is an excerpt from an article in East County Magazine:
“Fifty-three fire chiefs agree that the best way to keep families safe is to evacuate early,” August Ghio, president of the San Diego County Fire Chiefs Association, said at a press conference at Cal Fire’s El Cajon station. Ghio joined other local fire officials (photo) in drawing media attention to Australia’s policy of encouraging homeowners to stay home and fight wildfires--a factor that many believe to have contributed to a death toll of over 200 in Australia’s catastrophic blazes.

Australia’s tragedy also casts a pallor over some San Diego County Supervisors and local developers calls to adopt “shelter-in-place” standards for certain new housing projects. “The people here who cite Australia as a role model will have to back off, because clearly Australia was a disaster,” Leonard Villareal, public information officer for the San Miguel Fire District, told ECM.


Ghio stressed the importance of evacuating as early as possible, and said sheltering in place should be a last resort if you are over-run by a fire and can’t escape. But he added, “To make a decision to stay and defend, that’s the part we just can’t support.” During a disaster, there may not be enough emergency officials to assist with evacuations, he noted. “The citizens are responsible for their own safety.”


But (Chief Howard Windsor of Cal Fire) warned, “We can’t have people out there in flip-flops and T-shirts with garden hoses.” Under disaster scenario conditions such as firestorms fanned by Santa Ana winds, Ghio concluded, “Mother Nature Rules the Day; you need to get out of harm’s way.”

In the article, the term "stay and defend" is used frequently, but in Australia it is referred to as "Prepare, Stay and Defend, or Leave Early". The "Prepare" and "Leave Early" parts should always be included in describing the system.

The program can only work if the terrain and fuel conditions are favorable, the Preparation including removing flammable vegetation for at least 100-feet is complete, the home is constructed of fire-safe materials, and the homeowner has been trained and has the equipment to Defend. Not every home and homeowner can meet these qualifications.

As we wrote on Wildfire Today on January 23, many people die while attempting to evacuate from a wildfire:

"...8 of the 14 citizens who died in the 2003 Cedar fire near San Diego perished while they were evacuating. And 19 died while trying to evacuate from the Tunnel (or East Bay Hills) fire in Oakland in 1991."
UPDATE: Feb. 25, 2009

California's FIRESCOPE and the Governor's Blue Ribbon Fire Task Force, groups consisting of local fire chiefs, the CalFire director, officials from federal fire agencies, and other organizations, issued a statement on Feb. 13 about the policy. In part:
"Any consideration of the Australian so-called “Leave Early or Stay and Defend” policy would be irresponsible at this time in light of the tragedy in Australia, as well as California’s own experience responding to firestorms."

Thanks, Dick and Chuck

Chad Suppa, memorial service

The memorial service has been scheduled for Chad Suppa, the Module Leader of the Bureau of Land Management's Unaweep Fire Use Module who died in a parachuting accident near Phoenix on February 15. The date for the service has been changed from what was announced earlier, and it will now be Thursday March 5th at 3:00 p.m. at the Canyonview Vineyard Church in Grand Junction, Colorado. HERE is a link to a map.

The address of the church is:
736 24 1/2 Road
Grand Junction, CO 81505

According to an email that has been circulating: "The closest hotel to the church is The Holiday Inn Express off of 24 Road. There are also a variety of hotels on Horizon Drive, such as Holiday Inn, Doubletree, Grand Vista, Marriot, etc."

UPDATE Feb. 25:
Two memorial services have been planned. The first service will be held on Friday, February 27, 2009 in Warrenton, Virginia, at 4 p.m. at the Moser Funeral Home, 233 Broadview Avenue. A visitation will follow until 6:00 p.m.

The other service will be at Grand Junction on March 5 as described above.

Memorial contributions may be made to Conservation International, 2011 Crystal Drive, Suite 500, Arlington, VA 22202 or to The Nature Conservancy, 4245 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 100, Arlington, VA 22203-1606.

Contributions to The Chad Dennis Suppa Memorial Trust for Wildland Fire Management Scholarships can be made to the trustee, Angie Foster, 2842 Florida Street, Grand Junction, CO 81501.

Online condolences may be made at www.moserfuneralhome.com

Phoenix ranks 2nd in the world in kidnappings

Holy crap! Who knew that Phoenix had 366 kidnappings for ransom last year, which is second only to Mexico City. Police estimate that twice that number go unreported. In 2007, 359 were reported. Most of the victims are associated with drug smuggling across the 370-mile long border with Mexico.

In northern Mexico it appears that anarchy has broken out with police being overwhelmed by the drug cartels' armies. More than 8,000 people in Mexico have died in drug-related activities in the last two years. Here is an excerpt from azcentral.com about the battles just south of the border:
• In April 2007, 70 paramilitary enforcers known as Los Zetas, working for the Gulf Cartel, attacked a police station in Cananea, leaving 22 dead, including five officers. Afterward, about 40 percent of the local police force resigned.

• In October 2008, a convoy of Los Zetas was intercepted in Nogales by Sonoran state police. Ten gangsters were killed and three officers wounded during the shootout.

• On Nov. 1, 2008, armed gunmen attacked the police station in Nogales. The next day, the state police commander was assassinated by a sniper during an ambush outside a hotel. Then, on Nov. 3, police exchanged fire for three hours with gang members. "It was such (a) heavy firefight that police were actually calling for reinforcements . . . and asking for ammunition from the American side," said Wells.
Remind me not to move to Phoenix....or northern Mexico.

Single Engine Air Tankers

K. Tyler Miller at the Random Ramblings blog has been doing some research on Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) and has dug up some interesting information. You should go check it out.

They had a link to what turned out to be a great video of Dromader SEATs in action, with most of the footage being shot from a cockpit camera. Those pilots are very brave, judging from how they repeatedly flew into smoke, with zero visibility, for several seconds at a time.

Check out Random Ramblings, but in the meantime, here is the video.

Colorado legislature addresses wildfire

The Colorado legislature is considering several bills related to wildfire.

SB 20. In Colorado, the existing law identifies the county sheriff as the official "fire warden" and is the person responsible for suppressing wildfires on private and state lands within their county. (Wyoming has a similar law.) This bill states that the fire authority of each city or county would be the "emergency response authority for wild land fires" unless designated otherwise. Oddly, in newspaper accounts this is described as a "chain of command", but the bill only identifies one position, the "emergency response authority"; apparently a one-link chain. The Colorado State Forest Service would be responsible for fires on state-owned land. The bill also requires each county to develop a wildfire preparedness plan.

Other bills that have been introduced include SB 18 (grants to communities for thinning forests), and HB 1199 (a variety of projects and loans to prevent fires).

Rick Cables, the Regional Forester for the U.S. Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Region, in testimony before the legislature's agriculture committees last week, advocated charging a fee to urban water users to be used for protecting the vegetation in the high-altitude watersheds. Cables was quoted as saying:
"If we could add 50 cents a month to the water users in Denver, that generates $6 million a year to invest in the watershed. And if we get Las Vegas and Phoenix and Los Angeles on board, it could be 10 cents a month, or 5."

Thanks Chuck.

Arson investigator testifies for defense in Esperanza fire trial

David M. Smith testified for the defense on Monday in the trial of Raymond Oyler who is charged with five counts of first-degree murder and starting the Esperanza fire in which five U.S. Forest Service firefighters died in 2006 in southern California.

In the 1970s Smith (shown in the photo from his web site) was a member of the Arson and Bomb Unit with the Tucson Police Department, but in 1981 founded Associated Fire Consultants, Inc. According to his web site, he has given testimony over 170 times and his main areas of expertise are "arson motivations, explosions, and fuel gas matters".

He testified on Monday that he thinks there were two or possibly three arsonists setting fires in the Banning Pass area in 2006 based on the types of incendiary devices used. One device was a single Marlboro cigarette with about six matches set across it at a 90-degree angle. This type of device was used on 10 fires set between June 3 and July 2, 2006.

Another device was a cigarette bound with a rubber band to about 30 wood matches which was used on three fires set on May 16, 2006 and on the October 26 Esperanza fire.

While Smith said it is unlikely that an arsonist would use different types of devices, the prosecutor, Michael Hestrin, suggested that an arsonist's devices might evolve or they may try different devices.

Oyler's DNA was found on two of the cigarettes used on the fires between June 3 and July 2, 2006.

When asked during the trial, Smith said that he has been paid about $5,000 for the work he has done on the case.

It is likely that the trial will go to the jury this week.

Monday, February 23, 2009

EU seeks to improve fire and disaster response

The European Union (EU) is exploring procedures to prevent and mitigate disasters by imploring their national governments to work more closely together and share disaster planning and response resources.

The European Commission is looking at better ways to deal with disasters that have the potential to cross international boundaries, such as earthquakes, hazardous material releases, and wildfires.

Talks about the creation and sharing of an EU disaster-response force have occurred occasionally since 2007 when the idea was first presented by the Greek government after a number of disastrous wildfires. Here is what we wrote about the subject on March 31, 2008.
The European Union (EU), comprised of 27 member states, has been considering since April of 2007 the development of a rapid reaction force that could respond quickly to wildland fires, floods, and other emergencies. The parliament even passed a resolution to that effect, but little has taken place to make it happen.

I recently talked with someone in the UK who told me that in the last 2 weeks, due to last summer's fires in Greece, the fire on the Greek island a couple of weeks ago, and the recent flooding in the UK, discussions along these lines have accelerated. In addition to other resources, they are considering a fleet of air tankers that could respond quickly to wildland fires in any of the 27 member states. The resources would be funded by the EU and is being advocated by the Directorate for Civil Protection.

Feds to close Minden-Tahoe air tanker base

Air tanker 09 making their last drop, September 1, 2008 before it crashed at Reno later that day.

The Bureau of Land Management will consolidate their air tanker operations that have been at Minden-Tahoe airport and Reno-Stead airport into just having facilities at the Reno-Stead airport.

Click on the map below to see a larger version. (Lake Tahoe is the large lake on the left or west side of the map.)

The BLM says they no longer have the funding to fully staff both bases.

The closing of the air tanker facilities is generating some conflicting opinions in the public comments following an article at RGJ.com. But the reality is, the two bases are only 36 miles apart, which is about 10-15 minutes flying time for an air tanker, depending on the type.

Thanks, Dick. Map: Google Earth

Australian fires, Feb. 23 update

One fire truck was destroyed by a fire in Victoria, another was damaged, and two firefighters were treated for minor burns as a new rash of fires threatens more homes in Australia. Another surge of hot, dry, windy weather has prompted officials to issue warnings that any fires that start could become large. At least one fire is burning in the suburbs of Melbourne.

HERE is a link to a video in which a spokesman from the Dept. of Sustainability and Environment provides information about the current situation.

A bill has been introduced in Australia's legislature that would for the first time allow states and territories to access the telephone number database, which would be the first step to enabling automatically dialed emergency warnings via telephone. During the Black Saturday fires earlier this month many residents had no idea that they were immediately threatened by rapidly approaching fires.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Oklahoma firefighter dies while fighting fire

Firefighter John Adams; photo: KJRH

John Adams, a firefighter with the Silver City Volunteer Fire Department in Oklahoma collapsed and stopped breathing around 10:00 or 10:30 p.m. Friday while working on a vegetation fire near Mannford. Mr. Adams, who had been with the Silver City FD for five years, had been fighting the fire for several hours.

He leaves behind a wife and three children.

The 1,000 acre fire is believed to have been started by an arsonist. Three fires were set within a mile of each other, minutes apart.

Our condolences go out to the family and the Silver City Volunteer Fire Department.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Armstrong retrieves his bicycle

The stolen bike.

As we reported on Sunday, someone broke into Lance Armstrong's team truck and stole his time trial bike and three others out of their Ryder rental truck that was parked in an alley behind their Residence Inn motel. Lance is riding in the multi-stage Amgen Tour of California.

On Wednesday someone brought the stolen bike to a police station in the city of Sacramento where it was originally stolen. Even though he had a backup time trial bike, he had a second one made before the stolen bike was found. Here is a photo of part of the new bike he had built:

Armstrong is riding in a time trial today, and according to a message from him yesterday on Twitter:
I'm riding the old "hot" tt bike tomorrow. Had a replacement made too. Only diff was a line that said, "ride it like you stole it". Haha!
Before his time trial began today (which I am watching now, recorded on Tivo) Armstrong's cumulative time was 30 seconds behind the leader. After today there are two more stages, on Saturday and Sunday: Santa Clarita to Pasadena, and Rancho Bernardo to Escondido. The Sunday stage includes a trip up to Palomar Mountain and back. The race is televised live on the Versus channel.

Wildfire news, February 20

A real prepare, stay, and defend story

Len Renouf lives on a farm 30 miles east of Melbourne, Australia. Having been a volunteer firefighter, he thought he knew what to expect when one of the large fires approached his place recently, but it was much worse than he thought. His preparations and quick thinking may have saved his life and those of three of his neighbors.

The Daily Mail has the story.

USFS to send ICS trainers to Lebanon

The U.S. Forest Service has received funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide Lebanon with training on the Incident Command System.

Service for Chad Suppa scheduled

A memorial service for Chad Suppa, who passed away on February 15 in a parachuting accident, will be held on March 6 in Grand Junction, Colorado. When we receive more information about the exact time and place, we will post it here.

Carson Helicopters to send S-61's to Afghanistan

The company that owned the helicopter that crashed last year killing nine on a fire in northern California will be sending seven of their Sikorsky S-61 ships to Afghanistan.

The Mail Tribune in Medford, Oregon reports that Carson Helicopters has signed a contract with a subsidiary of Blackwater Worldwide, which recently changed their name to "Xe". The contract, worth $605 million through 2013, is for the helicopters to transport supplies; they will not be involved in combat. Carson has already starting painting the helicopters and installing radios.

This is a very interesting development. There is speculation that the deal is related to the liability claims resulting from the crash, and it involves a "fraudulent transfer of assets to block creditors and plaintiffs".

The Mail Tribune has more details.

Photo: Carson Helicopters

Man sentenced to probation for starting Corral Canyon fire

Brian David Franks, 28, will be on probation and will have to perform 300 hours of community service for starting the 2007 Corral Canyon fire that destroyed 53 homes and injured 6 firefighters near Malibu, California. He pleaded no contest to a felony charge of recklessly causing a fire.

Franks' hand was also slapped by the judge, stunning Franks' attorney, who jumped up and objected, waving his arms and shouting. (not really)

As part of his plea deal, Franks agreed to provide testimony against four others that have been charged, some of them for recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury and recklessly causing a fire to an inhabited structure.

More information is HERE.

Oyler's sister testifies in Esperanza fire trial

The sister of Raymond Lee Oyler testified in court on Wednesday that he was talking to her on the phone at his house when the Esperanza fire started.

Oyler is charged with five counts of murder for starting the 2006 fire in which five U.S. Forest Service firefighters died. He is also charged with setting 22 other fires in the area in 2006, many of them with a device consisting of a cigarette and matches.

The trial could go to the jury late next week.

Video of brush truck rollover

A video has surfaced of Wednesday's rollover of the Abilene Fire Department brush truck that Wildfire Today covered yesterday.

After watching the video it is incredible that the two firefighters standing on the back of the truck sustained only minor injuries. All three on the truck were treated and released at a local hospital.

The fire department is still assessing the damage to the 2000 model truck.

Since it is likely the fire was caused by a train, according to the Abilene FD, I wonder if the fire department is going to ask the railroad to pay for the medical bills of the three firefighters and the damage to the truck? Railroads have been getting away with starting uncountable fires for a long time. Some fire departments just assume that's the way it is, but most fires caused by trains are preventable. The railroads need to be held accountable and they need to implement preventive maintenance measures to reduce the number of fires they start.

Wildfire Today has written about the train-caused fire problem before. There are ways to get the attention of the railroads. In 2008 the Department of Justice settled a record $102 million civil lawsuit with the Union Pacific railroad for starting the 52,000 acre Storrie fire in the Plumas and Lassen National Forests in 2000. Other lawsuits have also been filed against railroads for negligently starting fires.

We wish for a speedy recovery for the three injured firefighters with the Abilene Fire Department.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Prescribed burning controversy in Australia

As the death toll in the fires in Australia rose yesterday to 208, the controversy about prescribed burning (or "burn0ffs") continues to rage on. Many people in the states of New South Wales and Victoria blame environmental groups for throwing up roadblocks to planned hazard reducing prescribed fires. Here is an excerpt from an article in The Daily Telegraph:
What a flaming disgrace - half of NSW's burnoffs cancelled

A DECISION to cancel almost half the burn-offs planned for NSW bushfire zones has put thousands of lives and properties in danger.

Frustrated volunteer firefighters yesterday lashed out at bureaucrats and greenies for preventing them from protecting communities. In one outrageous case, a woman was told by the State Government her fire escape route would remain an overgrown mess because it was a corridor for native flora and fauna.

More than 2100 hazard reduction operations planned by the Rural Fire Service were abandoned last year, the organisation's annual report reveals.

Deputy Captain George Bennett said firefighters were so frustrated by bureaucratic hurdles they were finding legal ways to complete small burns "undercover" on private property.

He said it took some brigades 12 months to gain approval for hazard reductions. The RFS admitted one burn-off on Mona Vale Rd in Sydney recently took several years to be approved.

"There is very little hazard reduction happening because of the bureaucratic processes, quite often it gets to the stage where brigades don't do it because of the paperwork," Mr Bennett said.

"We have got a very, very dangerous situation looming here. There are no areas you could use for fire containment, we have got a situation where there is an enormous build-up of fuel.

"It will be frightening if we get harsh conditions in October. There is the potential for loss of life and property."

A firefighter from a brigade in northern NSW, who declined to be named, said his firefighters had stopped asking to do burns: "We don't bother doing it any more, it takes up to 12 months, you are only allowed to go and put fires out."

Opposition emergency services spokeswoman Melinda Pavey said "common sense has been lost in NSW land management".

"We need to move back to the middle ground for the sake of people and native animals," she said.

The RFS admitted yesterday they were sometimes told by the National Parks and Wildlife Service to move their planned burns to avoid disturbing colonies of endangered animals.

Assistant Commissioner Rob Rogers said a negotiated solution was always found and the organisation always planned more burns than they could do.

"It is to provide flexibility," he said.

"During some years there is as little as 40 days that are suitable for burning because it is too dry, too hot or too wet."
Other articles can be found HERE and HERE.

Texas: truck overturns, 3 firefighters hurt

An Abilene Fire Department brush truck. Photo: Lt. Greg Goettsch, Abilene FD.

A brush truck with three firefighters overturned while working on a fire along railroad tracks near Abilene, Texas. The fire, along with a second one nearby, was probably caused by a passing train, according to the fire department. The accident happened Wednesday afternoon and all three firefighters were expected to be released from the hospital by the end of the day.

Here is a video about the accident.

UPDATE: Feb. 20, 2009.

We now have video of the truck actually rolling over posted HERE.

U.S. firefighters in Australia

Wildfire Today has received some photos of the firefighters that are assisting with the fires in Australia. Wol Worrell, a Ranger / Fire Management with National Parks Victoria, was working as a liaison officer with the U.S. forces when he took these photos.

Wol said:
I was in the States in 2000 as a member of the first Oz firefighters to assist the US with wildfires and also worked as the liaison officer in 2006 with the US firefighters who traveled down under to lend a hand.

As I understand they are mostly from the Pacific North West Region - Washington & Oregon.

They are currently working in the Yarra Wildfire Complex and are assisting in back burning / burning out operations at Mt Riddell within the water catchment area for the city of Melbourne, Victoria.

Thanks, Wol and Dick

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Is the federal employees union discriminating against AD firefighters?

Wildfire Today has learned that the union that represents federal employees in the southeast geographic area is using their power and influence to make it very difficult for AD (Administratively Determined) firefighters, who are not full-time government employees, to be selected for incident management teams.

We are for unions, mostly because over the last 100 years they did a lot to improve the working conditions and pay for workers. But there have been times when the power went to their heads and it was not always used for the overall good. Examples would be the impacts on the railroad and automotive industries in the middle of the last century.

In this case the union is again going too far, and taking advantage of the fact that AD employees have no union or anyone to represent their interests. The U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and other federal agencies in the Southeast are is cutting back on the number of AD employees on incident management teams in order to avoid the inevitable fights with the union. The Forest Service has an agreement with the union that says the Forest Service will minimize the number of ADs on teams and on other fire assignments.

Does the southeast geographic area have such a wealth of highly qualified fire personnel clamoring to get on the teams that they can ignore AD employees?

Is this happening in other geographic areas as well?

Wildfire news, February 18

Australian death toll unlikely to rise much more

In spite of warnings earlier that the death toll in the Australian fires, now at 201, could go as high as 300, Deputy Commissioner Keiran Walshe said yesterday “At this point in time we are relatively comfortable all those unaccounted for have now been accounted for - their remains have been located".

Tea fire: Ten people charged

Ten people have been charged with misdemeanors as a result of a three month investigation of the November 13 Tea fire that burned 2,000 acres and destroyed 230 homes in Montecito, near Santa Barbara, California. Each of the ten will be charged with two counts, of 1) trespassing and building a campfire and 2) failure to obtain a permit required for a campfire.

The ten individuals are Mohammed Alessam, Joshua Grant Decker-Trinidad, Hope Sjohnet Dunlap, Fahad Al-Fadhel, Hashim Ali Hassan, Casey James Lamonte, Natalie Rose Maese, Carver William McLellan, Stephen Reid and Lauren Elizabeth Vazquez. Nine of the ten were students at Santa Barbara City College in the fall of 2008.

The investigators could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the actions of the ten people directly resulted in the wildfire.

Noozhawk has more details.

Wildland firefighters explain digital pen to Business Week

You may have heard about the "digital pen" that can quickly and easily make notations and additions to paper maps. The new data can then be uploaded from the pen to a Geographic Information System. The new information will instantly appear in the GIS file and new updated paper maps can then be printed or the file emailed.

Firefighters, especially field observers, could use this for marking fire perimeters, constructed fireline, water sources, staging areas, safety zones, and dozens of other features.

Business Week, of all publications, has an article about this device, the Capturx digital pen from Adapx, as part of a series of articles called My Favorite Tech at Work. Michael Hoose, a firefighter with the Santa Barbara Fire Department, is shown as an example of how the pen can be used in the field.

There is also an excellent video that demonstrates how it can be used. I could not help but notice the spontaneous applause from the audience after the information stored in the pen appeared on the computer screen seconds after placing it in the little docking station.
(photo from Business Week)

UPDATE, Feb. 19, 2009

Michael Hoose, in the picture above, is all over the place. He wrote an article about another high-tech device which appeared in the January/February edition of Wildfire magazine that just arrived in my mailbox.

This time it is about a system called Fire Location and Incident Reporting, or FLAIR. To use the system you need, according to the article, a Ricoh 500SE camera and a "PDA" which can access the internet via a cell phone modem. The camera has a GPS and a compass and can geotag each image with the location and the direction in which the camera is pointing. The image and data can then be sent wirelessly via Bluetooth to the PDA where it can then be sent to a server which can be accessed by the personnel at the Incident Command Post.

The images, or icons representing them, can then be displayed on a Google or GIS map. Clicking an icon on the map will pop-up the image along with any notes entered by the photographer.

This could be a good way for fire or emergency managers to maintain better situational awareness.

Carrying the two pieces of electronic equipment along with a radio and other fireline neccessities could be a bit cumbersome. Garmin has already introduced and will selling sometime this year two versions of their "Nuvifone", the M20 and G60, which combine a full-blown GPS with a smart phone and a three megapixel camera which will automatically geotag images. So you could take the geo-tagged image and e-mail it all within the same piece of equipment.

Pop-up brush fires?

An article in the Citrus Daily in Florida has the following headline:
Pop-up brush fires plague many areas of county on Wednesday
Is that what the kids are calling them these days? The article goes on to say:
Citrus County firefighters spent a busy Wednesday running around the county extinguishing brush fires.

They put out at least eight fires, most of which were less than an acre. The largest, near Floral City, was three to five acres. A large shed burned down in one fire in Lecanto.

Sunday, last day to vote in the wildfire movie poll

Sunday night at midnight is the last day to vote in the poll for the best movie about wildland fire. The poll is on the right side of the page; more details about the poll and links to the movies are HERE.

Seven Oak Fire burnover report released

A fire whirl, during the final run of the fire onto the burnover site. The blurry image of an air tanker coming in to assist can barely be seen.

On February 3, 2009 CalFire released the report about a burnover that occurred July 6, 2007 on the Seven Oak Fire which was part of the Inyo Complex on the Inyo National Forest in California. Nine firefighters from two engines suffered injuries and were treated at a burn center in Fresno, California.

Photo taken during the burnover.

The report is very well constructed, and highlights a lot of good decisions, as well as some that contributed to the burnover.

You should read the entire document, but here are some of the report's findings and contributory factors:
  • The two engines were defending a structure that had been identified as undefendable.
  • The burnover occurred during a transition to an Incident Management Team.
  • Providing medical treatment and air transportation for the injured to the Burn Center was much delayed.
  • Two fire fighters experienced difficulties removing their fire shelters from the PVC bag.
  • Fire suppression personnel resorted to their core training, which saved their lives. Per statements taken, the pond had been identified as a safety zone, if needed, by Engineer 4480. When things did not work as planned, each employee resorted to their core training and gathered at their identified safety zone. They communicated with, and supported one other. Working as a team, they survived this incident.

Engine 4452

The photos are from the report.

Thanks, Dick.

How to find Osama bin Laden with GIS

Two geography professors at UCLA, Thomas W. Gillespie and John A. Agnew, claim they have figured out how to find Osama bin Laden by using a computer; specifically, a geographic information system (GIS) combined with biogeographic theories.

We commonly use GIS for mapping fires and planning land use projects. And on the TV show Numb3rs they can do magic my manipulating combinations of zeros and ones in a computer to find the bad guy. But finding Osama? Hmmmm.

Here's what the professors say in the abstract of a paper they just published:
We use biogeographic theories associated with the distribution of life and extinction (distance-decay theory, island biogeography theory, and life history characteristics) and remote sensing data (Landsat ETM+, Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, Defense Meteorological Satellite, QuickBird) over three spatial scales (global, regional, local) to identify where bin Laden is most probably currently located.
They take some great leaps in making some assumptions on which their conclusions are based. For example, here are Osama's characteristics which then led them to search for particular attributes of structures where Osama must be hiding.

Life History Characteristics/Physical Structure Attribute
Is 6’4” tall/Tall building
Requires a dialysis machine that uses electricity/Electric grid hookup or generator
Prefers physical protection/Walls over three meters high
Enjoys personal privacy/space between structures
Retains a small number of body guards/More than three rooms
Prefers to remain protected from aerial view/Trees for cover when outside

(Are they sure he's in a structure?)

They also based the search on Osama's last known location in 2001, the Tora Bora region of Afganistan--assuming that he was still in that general part of the world.

A map showing some likely hiding places for Osama.

Some likely hangouts for Osama.

And in case you're wondering if we're giving up any classified data here, they professors said in an interview on the Rachel Maddow show tonight that they gave the information to the FBI before they published the paper.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chad Suppa, dead in parachute accident

Chad Suppa at Wilsons Creek National Battlefield, 2007. Photo: Steve Babbin

Chad Suppa, the Module Leader of the Bureau of Land Management's Unaweep Fire Use Module (FUM) in Grand Junction, Colorado died in a parachuting accident near Phoenix on Sunday, Feb. 15. According to azfamily.com, he was attempting a Base jump when his chute failed to open properly.

Here is a news video that was produced before Chad's identity was confirmed.

Before working for the BLM, Chad worked for the National Park Service on the Buffalo National River FUM. The Lessons Learned Center had an article about the Buffalo National River FUM in the fall 2002 issue of the Scratchline newsletter. HERE is a link to a PowerPoint presentation about the Unaweep FUM that was prepared after the 2007 fire season. Wikipedia also has an article about FUM's.

We will post the funeral arrangements when those are made known.

Our condolences to Chad's family, friends, and co-workers.

In September, 2007, Brad Cella, who had just moved from Anchorage to accept a new position with the National Park Service in Boise, died of a massive stroke after he deployed his parachute while skydiving .

UPDATE: Information about Chad's memorial services is HERE.

Thanks, Mike.

Australian FF Union calls for review

Peter Marshall, the National Secretary of the United Firefighters Union of Australia, has written an open letter requesting a national review of Australia's fire risk and readiness. The entire letter, "on behalf of over 13,000 firefighters and support staff", is HERE, but below is an excerpt:
....The real question now must be whether the nation as a whole is devoting the resources it needs to fire prevention and suppression. We are gravely concerned that the Royal Commission to be set up in Victoria will have a narrow brief to investigate a geographically-specific disaster. It cannot have the scope needed to provide an overview of Australia's fire readiness. Further, we want to ensure that it is not a whitewash, with narrow terms of reference designed to ensure political cover for the Victorian Government. The proposed Victorian Royal Commission should be folded into a broader national inquiry into the nature of Australia's fire risk and our preparedness to meet that risk.

Consideration must also be given to massive new Federal and State investment in infrastructure and firefighters. A portion of any stimulus package must go towards preventing future disaster as well as rebuilding after the current one.

Finally, now is not the time to play a "blame game" with respect to the Victorian fires. However, at the appropriate time, we hope to be able to publicly air the concerns we have been conveying over many years to those in power about the state of readiness of our fire services. A national inquiry would allow Australia to get to the bottom of what happened but also work out how to ensure that nowhere in the country will it happen again. We urge State and Federal Governments to make sure this tragedy was not in vain: grasp this opportunity to develop Australia's first ever national approach to fire and rescue.

Australian firefighter killed by falling tree

A firefighter in Australia was killed when a tree fell onto a fire apparatus on February 17. The firefighter from the Australian Capital Territories Fire Brigade died on the scene while a second firefighter in the truck was unhurt, according to commissioner Greg Manson of the ACT Emergency Service Agency.

The accident occurred at Cambarville, just east of Marysville in Yarra Ranges National Park. This is the first emergency worker to die in this rash of bushfires that began on what is now known as "Black Saturday", February 7.

Marysville suffered great losses in the fires, with 39 confirmed dead and most of the structures being wiped out. Nationwide, the death toll has risen to 200; that figure is expected to rise as more bodies are found.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Stress under fire--behind the scenes

Researchers have studied exactly what happens to a soldier when they are under extreme stress and have identified some chemicals that control the process. You have to wonder if some of this research applies to firefighters. From Reuters:
Soldiers who perform best under extreme stress have higher levels of chemicals that dampen the fear response, a finding that could lead to new drugs or training strategies to help others cope better, a U.S. researcher said.

"There are certain individuals who just don't get as stressed. Their stress hormones are actually lower," Deane Aikins of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, told reporters Sunday at the American American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago.

Aikins and colleagues at Yale study stress hormone levels of soldiers undergoing survival training, which includes mock prisoner of war experiences.

Blood samples taken from soldiers in the training programs showed those who fared best under extreme stress had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and higher levels of neuropeptide y, a chemical that dampens the body's stress response.

"All of the recovery hormone systems, all of the systems that turn it down, really kick in for these resilient individuals," Aikins said.

Wildfire news, February 16

Australia arson

The suspect accused of starting a bushfire that killed 21 people is still being held in jail, at least partly for his own protection. He has been identified as 39-year old Brendan Sokaluk and was once a volunteer firefighter about 20 years ago.

Here is an actual screen shot from his MySpace page:

More quotes from his MySpace page are HERE.

He has been charged with one count of arson causing death, along with other charges.

The video below has more information about the fires and the arson charge.

U.S. firefighters in Australia

A group of 60 from the United States arrived at Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport on Sunday. HERE is a link to a video of their arrival at the airport.

Too much or too little prescribed burning in Australia?

While most of the recent articles in the Australia media recently about prescribed burning make the point that too little prescribed burning contributed to the fires becoming large, not everyone agrees. Lionel Elmore, who was burned out in 1983, claims in an article that prescribed fires have an adverse impact on hydrology and the timber industry.

Rescued Koala improving

Bob (top) and Sam. Photo: Reuters

The female Koala, named Sam, that was rescued from a fire in Australia is not only doing better, but has found a boyfriend, Bob.

Infamous World Fires

In January, 2006 I compiled information about wildland fires over the last 150 years that are famous, or infamous, because of their size or because there were multiple fatalities. I researched and found the dates, not just the year, these fires occurred so that they could be listed in order by date of the year and posted onto a calendar.

By having these wildland fires on a calendar, the lessons learned from even a 150 year old fire will be less likely to be forgotten. An unforgotten lesson learned may save the life of a current or future firefighter.

The document had been hosted on the website of the International Association of Wildland fire since 2006, but they recently rebuilt their site. Unfortunately, the new site has some bugs that still need to be resolved, and that document and many others are no longer accessible. So I have put it on Sagacity Wildfire Services' site HERE.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Helicopter crash in Chile kills 13 firefighters

Twelve wildland firefighters and a pilot were killed on Sunday when their helicopter crashed in south-central Chile. The National Forestry Corporation, Chile's equivalent to the United States' National Park Service, said they were being ferried either to or from a fire in a eucalyptus plantation when the helicopter crashed.

Various reports are giving two different numbers on the fatalities; some say 13 were killed and others say it was 14.

The victims were men between the ages of 18 and 30 who worked for Celulosa Arauco y Constitucion, a timber and pulp company known as CELCO. Many of them were students working seasonally in order to make money for school.

An emergency official said that there was light rain and a dense mist in the area at the time of the crash, which occurred near Chanco, 165 miles south of Santiago.

Firefighters in Chile have been very busy since the beginning of January, Chile's hottest summer month, working on numerous fires which have burned 37,000 acres.

This accident is reminiscent of the helicopter crash in northern California in August, 2008 that killed nine wildland firefighters. Our hearts go out to our firefighter brothers and sisters in Chile.